27.04.2015

Nepal earthquake – thoughts before flight to Kathmandu

Hello there,

I’m in the departure lounge, about to fly to Nepal. Nearly three days since the devastating earthquake hit the country.

Since then we have been working to contact our colleagues and partners and friends in the country. Once we clarified their safety, and that of their families, we worked on understanding the situation and extent of devastation, both human and material, and especially for people with disabilities, who face extra challenges in times like these.

So I am in Lilongwe airport, Malawi (where I am based when I am not working on emergency response support) waiting for my flight to Kathmandu. It will be a long flight with transits in Addis Ababa and Delhi but I am anxious to be in Nepal with our team and partners and to work out what needs to be done.

While I am waiting, I am reflecting on the last three days. As I said, it has been a long time for many of us trying to reach out to people, to understand the extent of damage and to see if and how we can support as an organisation and as individuals. I think about all the people who have lost their loved ones, have lost homes, are missing friends and relatives and are still living under constant fear of strong aftershocks. One of my best friends in Lilongwe is married to a woman from Nepal and he tells me that their family house is damaged and that his in laws are also sleeping in open. He has started a small initiative here in Lilongwe and wants to channel funds to a credible organization in Nepal who will support people affected by this earthquake. Everybody wants to support in some ways.

Last night all of us from the ERU team worked very late and I called it a night at 1-ish. This morning I was up from 6 a.m trying to reach our Nepal Country Coordinator and Programme officer again; despite there being more aftershocks during the night, both of them had managed to reach out to partners, enquire about their well-being and about any potential plans to response to the emergencies. Since the network is not well and functioning, the calls were limited to quick updates, however very vital as we were relieved to know that indeed all of them reported safe, though some of reported damages to their premises (hospital, homes and offices).

Our Country Coordinator also managed to meet government authorities, UN agencies and other humanitarian actors during the coordination meetings and is updated on the status of needs assessment and overall coordination for the response in Nepal. All this is very important information now, to organise ourselves and decide which needs of the affected population – in particular persons with disabilities – we and our partners are best placed to address.

It will still be some time before we have clarity on all of this but the important work has begun, thanks to our team and partners in Nepal. I have to also mention that we are ‘only’ three days since the earthquake happened and the response from our member associations and donors has been very great. We already know that we will have much needed financial resources to engage in relief activities immediately while planning for recovery and rehabilitation phase – so ensuring that the emergency needs of people are being met.

While addressing the immediate needs we are also thinking long-term. We don’t know the exact shape our response will take yet, but we aim to restore existing services and ensure accessibility at the same time. Whether we are talking about buildings or services, if new infrastructure is as accessible as can be it’s is not just ‘disability-friendly’, but better for the whole community.

We have not been able to contact many of the Disabled Persons Organisations we work with yet (DPO partners) and I am anxious to hear from them. I want to understand how the situation is for persons with disabilities and how they can support in disability-inclusive relief, recovery and rehabilitation activities. I am counting on our DPO partners to engage actively in this important time.

This brings me back to the flight and my coming trip. I will be there for maybe two-three weeks or more if need be to support our Country office team to do a very quick assessment of situation and define what activities we will do, in what geographic areas and how we can reach out to persons with disabilities in remote isolated communities. I am hoping that I will be of support in developing a timely, disability inclusive response where persons with disabilities and disabled persons organisations, along with other CBM partners as well as mainstream humanitarian organisations come together to provide needed relief services. I am also hoping that I will be of support to the CBM country office team who has been bravely dealing with everything in Nepal; for some, probably the hardest three days they would have seen in their lives too.

I’m ready to fly but I heard this morning that some humanitarian workers were stranded in Delhi because the Kathmandu airport has been congested, trying to prioritise relief supply planes to land. I do understand that this needs to be done but I am hoping it doesn’t happen to me!.

Wish me luck!